November 28, 2023

ISTA outlines 2024 legislative priorities: strengthen collective bargaining, offset textbook costs

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The ISTA discussed their 2024 legislative priorities during a press conference Tuesday. - Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News

The ISTA discussed their 2024 legislative priorities during a press conference Tuesday.

Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News

The Indiana State Teachers Association announced its 2024 legislative priorities Tuesday. The state’s largest teachers’ union wants to strengthen collective bargaining rights for teachers, increase school funding, hire diverse educators, and provide social and emotional learning support for students.

ISTA President Keith Gambill said state lawmakers should prioritize public school funding by reopening the budget and allocating $500 million in tuition support to schools.

Gambill also said the state should pay all textbook fees. Lawmakers voted this year to eliminate textbook and supply fees for students. Indiana's budget set aside some money to pay for textbooks, but districts that use more than the designated amount must make up the difference themselves.

“The state made the decision that they were going to cover the full cost of textbooks, and it should be upon them and not more on the backs of school employees,” Gambill said.

Lawmakers voted on a two-year budget at the end of the 2023 legislative session, so this year’s legislative session is not a budget year. Lawmakers appropriated $312 million for Indiana schools at the end of the last session, but some lawmakers expressed concern that much of that money was earmarked to expand Indiana’s voucher program.

“While we recognize the '24 legislative session is not a budget year, we are calling on legislators to re-open the budget to fix several inadequacies that require immediate attention,” Gambill said.

Gambill did not specify where the additional funds would come from, but he pointed to the state’s $6 million surplus and implied some of that money could be used to pay for textbooks.

READ MORE: Indiana legislative leaders temper expectations of major action in 2024 session

The ISTA will also prioritize the restoration of teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Gambill said lawmakers should let teachers help determine things like class sizes, teaching methods, working hours and discipline strategies. Those topics used to require teacher input during collective bargaining, but lawmakers passed a bill that removed that requirement last year.

“Educators are best equipped to make school and learning decisions to ensure students can thrive,” Gambill said.

Gambill also proposed a $60 million, three-year pilot program to focus on student well-being. The program would hire guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists. He said part of the goal is to reduce student to staff ratios and help with discipline issues.

Gambill said the program would focus on improving students’ mental and physical health. The pilot would involve 30 districts and span from elementary to high school. If it is successful, the ISTA plans to expand it statewide.

Hiring diverse educators is another priority for the ISTA. Gambill said he wants lawmakers to create resources to recruit and retain educators of color.

“Students should not have to look much further than their own classes to find mentors or materials with roots in their own community,” he said. “Our public schools should reflect the cultural diversity and identity of the communities they serve.”

Gambill said the ISTA will also advocate for quality pre-K programs, increases to teacher pay and cost-of-living increases for retired teachers.

“These legislative priorities are rooted in our commitment to the well-being and success of students and educators,” he said. “When we join together families, educators and community leaders, we can create learning environments where every student can learn and grow. We are ready to work with lawmakers of every party, educators, parents and other partners to make these priorities a reality.”
 

 

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

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